La Ciénaga (2001) Poster


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Moody, Sensual, and Atmospheric
howard.schumann24 April 2002
La Ciénaga, directed by first-timer Lucrecia Martel, uses a seemingly uneventful series of episodes and an atmospheric sense of impending doom to make a statement about the decadence of the Argentine middle class. The decaying families are portrayed without much sympathy, showing them as racist, uncaring, and self-indulgent.

The screen veritably pulsates with life and ugliness. Every frame is filled with children and animals running in and out, dogs barking, everyone talking at the same time, music blaring, and the TV bellowing something about Virgin Mary sightings. It's almost as if the camera is eavesdropping on an intimate family gathering, making the viewer feel like an uninvited guest at a party.

The narrative (such as it is) is about two families and their children thrown together at the end of a stifling hot summer, and how everybody bears the marks of carelessness and inattention: scars, burns, bruises. Nothing works in this milieu; the pool is very dirty, one boy has lost one eye, another is afraid of stories about dog-rats, drinking is excessive and accidents result as a consequence. The mother (Mecha) is a drunk who just seems to be waiting for the end to face life in bed for 20 years like her own mother. She makes racist remarks directed toward her servant, yells at her own daughter Momi, (who seems to be infatuated with the servant), and makes vague plans to go to Bolivia to buy school supplies for the kids.

La Cienaga is not easy to watch. It is moody, sensual, atmospheric, almost unbearably intimate, with a constant level of anxiety and tension. You can feel the humidity building on your forehead. Danger is always near, and violence seems not just possible but probable. There is an unspoken longing for something, anything good to happen to relieve the emptiness of life. I was reminded of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. It is almost Bunuelian in its feeling but, unlike Bunuel, it is not dark comedy, just dark.

The unspoken backdrop is the recent history of Argentina, an unending nightmare of political violence, social unrest, and fiscal disaster. Only the children give us any hope for the future. It is a compelling picture of class arrogance with an ending as moving as any I've seen. Strongly recommended but bring a lot patience and a de-humidifier.
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Don't boo a movie if just because of its local appeal you do not understand it
bwahler120 February 2005
The previous comment - a scathing review - reads as an effective degradation of Martel's "La Ciénaga" to a wanna-be artsy movie that forgot to include a message to convey or even a story to tell. First of all: this is far from being the truth. Second: nonetheless most publics will probably take that impression away from seeing "La Ciénaga" if they do not know beforehand what to expect. That is neither the fault of the audience nor that of Lucrecia Martel's excellent movie.

Like other excellent directors from around the world, for instance her compatriot Daniel Burman recounting stories from Buenos Aires' Jewish community - Lucrecia Martel has (in my opinion wisely) decided that she will be at her best when telling about the world she knows best: the particular social setting of the Northwest Argentinean provincial capital Salta. A beautiful city, in a province ruled by a populist strongman, with mixed population, urban middle class and a upper crust of provincial landowner aristocracy, that is resistantly moving into a post-feudal age. The pace of life is slow - and comes to a near standstill during the long summer, where people of means escape into summer villages with a slightly preferable micro-climate.

Lucrecia Martel's movie has a "documentary" air about it - but it can only appear fake if one is angry at having paid eight bucks to see a film one does not understand because its appeal is entirely "local".

Now, even if you do not have a first hand experience of Argentinean society, let alone that particular subset that the one of Salta is and neither understand Spanish in its Argentinean version or even more the dialect of the Northwest (not only "ll" and "y" but also "rr"'s are pronounced "sh" as in Washington) you may enjoy the movie if you know the little I indicated above. And believe me: Salta is like that! Departing from this, you may in any case enjoy the excellent photography that perfectly fits and reverberates the pace of slouching decadence, and rejoice in the sometimes not so subtle symbolism of the dysfunctional and untimely nature of the beings populating the movie. The actors do an outstanding job at portraying characters with all the traits you could expect to encounter in Salta's summer mountain escapes. You can take my word for it: these people actually exist!

Is this artsy? While the location selected is one that stands for a niche in a niche market of current cinematography - Martel's choice is highly commendable: for it is this courageous choice that enables here to tell stories that she unlike any other can bring to the screen and apply to them all the skills of the craft she and her team have mastered. If you accept that you will enjoy a true gem of contemporary cinema. If you reject her choice, then at least waste a moment of your time that you had set out to complain about those ridiculously artsy movie directors and consider why Woody Allen may have decided to make one NYC movie after the other. And how much the Coen Brothers' works profit from their choice of more than peculiar regional settings.

My recommendation: take the time, open your mind, suppress the expectations and watch "La Ciénaga". Remember: if you don't like it, it's not your fault - but neither does it have to be Lucrecia Martel's.
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Class contrasts in the provinces
jotix10026 December 2005
Lucrecia Martel, the talented director of "La Cienaga", creates a dark picture with this film that takes place in the northern part of Argentina that borders Bolivia. Having seen "La nina santa" prior to watching this movie, there is a sort of connection between the two, as the director explores the darker side of human beings, which seems to consume her.

"La Cienaga" is a film that mirrored the times when it was made. The last part of the 21th century was devastating for Argentina as most people were affected by the rapid changes in the economy that befell the land. As the film starts, we suffer from disorientation. We are taken to Mecha's house in the country where a group of people are seen sitting around the swimming pool. No one says anything to one another; it's as though the oppressing heat has numbed everyone. The only thing left to do is to drink to oblivion.

Mecha appears to be inebriated when she tripped and fell. The wine glass cuts her in the chest. Blood is seen all over the place. Then, as though by magic, we are taken to meet Tali and her family, who appear to live in town. There is a sharp contrast between the two households. Where Mecha's house is run down, it still shows signs of a richer past. Tali's home, on the other hand, is a much humbler place.

Ms. Martel makes a subtle comment on what she shows us. There are a lot of things that are wrong in Mecha's house, like the lesbianism shown between one of her daughters and the maid. Incest is also hinted when Jose, the older son, who has come from Buenos Aires to see his mother after her accident, shows a sick interest in his beautiful sister. He enters the bathroom while she is taking a shower. At the same time, we are shown on the television set, an incident where people are attesting to seeing the Virgin Mary in a water tank on the roof of a house.

The director imbues the film in symbolism, which seems to be hard for viewers to follow. The story is deeper than what the images present for our viewing. That is why this enigmatic film did not reach a wide audience. It's a shame because Lucrecia Martel's film has a hypnotic way to get us involved.

Graciela Borges, an Argentine film star in her own right, plays Mecha, a woman of the moneyed society who appears to have seen better days. Ms. Borges underplays her character, achieving a great appearance. Mercedes Moran, who played Helena in "La nina santa", is seen as Lita, Mecha's cousin, Lita shows a lot of common sense. She also has a lot of problems, but she is much grounded than her cousin that is decaying in the old country estate. The ensemble cast is also good.

While "La Cienaga" is a disturbing work. Lucrecia Martel wrote and directed with great style. It's worth a look of fans of the Argentine cinema because it shows one of the most original talents in a film that dares to go where others don't.
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Red wine on ice
ghuner28 January 2002
The adult characters in "La Ciénaga" trudge through a hot and sticky summer and sedate themselves with red wine on ice. It's hot and everyone is miserable. No one is having sex, few are eating much, everyone is bickering, and the servants bear the brunt of their mistress's frustrations. If you want plot and adventure or a love story with a happy ending this film isn't for you....but if you want to see REAL characters coping (or not coping) with life you will never forget "La Ciénaga". Like in Canadian literature, the landscape is presented as a character in the film. Something to be endured. It's a film that looks at man's attempt to 'control' their environment and whether it makes any difference at all. One cousin lays in bed in a drunken stupor and lets things just 'happen' the other cousin nervously attempts to keep her home neat, gardening, ensuring she's a 'good' mother, but she stops for a few seconds to listen to music one day....with disastrous consequences.

I hope you get a chance to see it.
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Humid, broken, scarred and sullen
andersonl019 February 2005
Lurid colors cover a visual stink that permeates La Cienaga and turns all interaction sinister around the edges. The camera work was queasy and the cuts were brutal--sometimes fatal…I loved it. La Cienaga sticks in the memory like the urban legends the children tell to scare each other. The story is an almost voyeuristic tour of the families of two sisters, Tali and Mecha, one in the city, one in the swamp. We meet Mecha, the rich swamp-dwelling sister, by her filthy swimming pool surrounded by other zombie-esquire party-goers, all half passed out in pool chairs from the combined effect of alcohol and the rainforest heat. All of her bored kids are scarred, beat-up, scratched—one is missing an eye. Armed with hunting rifles, the swamp is their main source of entertainment—except for awkward Momi, who spends most of her time clinging to Isabella ("Isa"), the native Argentinean house servant in Mecha's crumbling estate.

Tali's family, living in the city, seems a little more sane, a little more whole, but her kids are smack in the middle of terrifying stages of growing up. Her two hyper-gendered daughters on the verge of puberty wear enough woman's make-up to look like kiddie-porn stars or circus clowns. When they are not being chased by little boys with water balloons, they are taunting their little brother with stories of the African rat-dog.

Some of the only music in the film follows Isa, the native; all else is the constant rumble of thunder, the ice tinkling in the Mecha's drink, and the silence of sullen frustration. Every scene is dangerous in its way, every volatile character was so full of desires gone bad, and all beauty was rotten underneath. Director Lucrecia Martel has created a refreshingly unromantic film in the romantic location of the Argentinean rainforest that leaves you with images as sticky as the heat.
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A very good and important film because its portrayal of family dysfunction is uncannily symbolic of the malaise affecting Argentine society today.
ademas2 June 2002
La Cienaga means "the bog" in Spanish and it seems to symbolize the kind of emotional place where the dysfunctional families in the film exist. People are closely tied to each other mainly by their inability to come out of "the bog." The many disturbing, and even somewhat confusing images and dialogue, succeed well in conveying the oppression, ills, and limitations that plague the lives of the characters. It is a very important film to come out of Argentina. Having grown up in that country and being acquainted with its present social environment, I find this particular portrayal of family problems to be amazingly symbolic of the malaise affecting Argentine society today. In this regard, the absence of any obvious political or ideological reference makes the film even more interesting.
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a very fine stepping stone from a robust film-maker making a good fist of counterpoising the inexplicable with the pedestrian
lasttimeisaw14 May 2018
Shot in Salta, director Lucrecia Martel's hometown, nestled in the Argentinian high plains, her debut feature THE SWAMP is a cinematic homage to the place and milieu where she grows up, it is intimate, clammy, misty and torpidity-ridden, an internalized sociological drama that definitely puts her name on the cinematic map.

Two households' quotidian lives are interlocked together, Mecha (Borges) is the matriarch of a petit bourgeois family, husband Gregorio (Adjemián), two teenage daughters Verónica (Balcarce) and Momi (Bertolotto) and a younger son Joaquín (Baenas) who has lost his right eye and pending for an operation. Most of them vegetate around in their decrepit countryside estate under the influence of the humid and sweltering weather, a sanguineous accident brings back her eldest son José (Bordeu) for a sojourn and the visits from her working-class cousin Tali (Morán), who is living in the town with her husband Rafael (Valenzuela) and a brood of 4 (or 5?) younger kids, a prominent feature sees Martel unfolds the story in medias res and leaves no explanatory pointers, therefore it is completely left to viewers to piece together the make-ups of the two families (and other backstories) through its meandering and characteristically rowdy narrative, a task this reviewer might not able to cinch in the end.

Kit her camera with a slithering but sensibly unobtrusive mobility, Martel unwaveringly levels it to her close-knit characters with clinical observation, often from unorthodox angles, no establishing shots, seldom focuses on the exterior locations or utilizes long shots, the camera is restive but the characters are entrapped and enervated inside their pokey space, mostly on their beds, lazing around, doing nothing, their stalemate is contagious, a metaphor blandly illustrated by a buffalo bogged down helplessly inside a swamp.

Day-to-day triviality is given a microscopic examination under Martel's perceptive, score-free orchestration, through which she deftly lays out the chasm between classes and races (Mecha vs. her Amerindian servants), latent lesbianism (Momi's obsession with the young maid Isabel, played by a stolid Andrea López), the connubial strain and sheer contempt, religious sideswipe (through faux-newsreel of Virgin Mary's alleged manifestation) and the quasi-incestuous horseplay between José and Véronica, and pertaining to Martel's female slant, it is him in the state of dishabille for viewers to gaze upon, all integrated organically into this understated but telling drama that excoriates Argentina's pandemic ennui, to the point when its detriment start to tell in the accidental (but presaged) tragedy which brings down the final curtain, it hits less like a wake-up call than the designed vagaries of kismet, a very fine stepping stone from a robust film-maker making a good fist of counterpoising the inexplicable with the pedestrian.
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Profound portrait of a small-town upper-class family
PeniLein20 February 2017
This film meant a leap in Lucrecia Martel's career but also a blizzard of fresh air for Argentine cinema, which had become stiff and too ideological during the '90s. It has an interesting script, that keeps you absorbed by the tense climate and insinuated secrets at the home (maybe the main element of the movie), without great dramatic actions. However the major virtue of this film is in acting, sound and cinematography. The diverse and witty cast offers outstanding performances. The sound design is a solid example of what cinema can achieve through sound. While cinematography perfectly shapes the image according to each dramatic situation. In addition, the underlying themes, such as social differences and intrafamily secrets, are approached with admirable subtlety and depth.
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An interesting account of sporadic childhood memories brought to the screen but there is little-more than tense atmosphere and an uneven uncanny aura.
johnnyboyz8 January 2009
How accurate La Ciénaga is when it comes to Argentinian life is something that you feel only a select number of people could vouch for. The world in which La Ciénaga, or 'The Swamp' in English, is set comes across as quite bizarre but relatively simple; rather routine but dare I say slightly backward at the same time. Despite the rural setting and the feeling of openness such a rural setting of rolling hills and vast countryside may carry with it, The Swamp feels cramped and claustrophobic with little space to move and few incidences in which you have a space to yourself. Indeed, someone may be in the shower and someone else will run in, needing to clean their muddy foot in the shower water. On other occasions, the mother when in her bedroom will sit upright and bellow at others to get out. Its this invasion of privacy and bogged down, cramped conditions that get across the greater moments of atmosphere in The Swamp even if the film is a little hit and miss overall.

I read that the director, Lucrecia Martel, made the film based on some pretty true to life experiences in their own home and has set the film in their home area of the Salta Province in Argentina and it shows. You do get the feeling the film is a very personal project; the sort of film that can only exist through personal experience and knowledge of what certain things were like in a certain environment. In this regard, Martel comes across as a competent and very personalised filmmaker who is more interested in delivering things how they were rather than how people might want them to be.

The approach shows for the best part of the runtime. The film is slow and brooding, boggy in its approach and bleached out in the lazy sun when it isn't enclosed during a rain break and everyone must huddle indoors. It doesn't look at story as much as it adopts the approach of 'what might happen if this was the scenario'. If what Martel says about her childhood is true then it would seem they've captured the feel and atmosphere perfectly.

But I suppose it's a criticism that Martel gets across this feeling without ever actually giving us something else to cling onto. It's all well and good establishing what it may have been like living in the conditions but apart from an effective juxtaposition of rural claustrophobia and sporadic weather, there isn't really much else to shout about. I don't think the film ever gets going out of second gear and I suppose I was looking for what it was like living at these times and in these conditions. Unfortunately, Martel grounds this film in the present day and that takes away some of the retrospective approach. This cuts the characters off from reality or 'the real world' meaning it could only have been made by a certain someone whose experienced it but it can take place anywhere and at any time. I found this a little disappointing because I wanted more from what it was like to live at this 'time' in these conditions but what I got was just the 'conditions' half of the deal.

The film sees two families living in an Argenitnian province and struggling with one another more than anything else. I suppose the film centres on Mecha (Borges), a fifty-something mother who drinks, insults and accuses maids and generally does not much else apart from visit her cousin Tali (Morán) and family in a nearby town. Mecha's family is calm and quite passive, something the film really wants to get across in the early exchanges and its a comparison that works well once they arrive at the cousin's house in the slightly busier urban setting of the town. Here, it is things as basic as quickening the editing and having everybody move around a little faster than usual that gets across the new sensation.

The film relies on tiny, real life encounters for both its antagonism and story lines. Mecha's drinking acts as a back-burning threat more than anything but I don't think we ever get the feeling she could erupt into anything more than the odd rant. Adding to the intimate and enclosed surroundings is a fair amount of sexual tension between certain characters, a boy changes his shirt in a public shop in front of watching girls and later on an incidence occurs when a girl puts lotion on her body in front of a watching male who lies topless on a bed in the sun drenched arena. This twinned with the fact everyone's in swimwear for most of the time gives off an, if anything, eerie feel to the film. What's also quite alarming are the scenes in which young children carry shotguns around in the woodland; initially these are used to good effect: we hear gunshots but assume it to be thunder and then some rain falls but what's actually happening is something a little less innocent.

I don't think The Swamp was a bad film but it was particularly uneven. I like the feel and the look of the film and the study of Mecha being this ill and cut off woman to the point young kids are running around with heavy artillery is interesting. The sexual tension and the ideas for antagonism and what-have-you are there but none of them are developed to any great length although that might be the point of the film: that stuff exists, stuff happens but never usually in the order or how you'd like it to transpire.
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Not especially enjoyable, but undeniably affecting.
thisissubtitledmovies26 December 2010
excerpt, more at my location - La Cienaga, or The Swamp, is the debut film from Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel. Originally released in 2001, the film announced the arrival of a unique new voice within international cinema. Finally granted a DVD release in the UK, it shows that the director of The Holy Girl and The Headless Woman had emerged with her distinctive and uncompromising vision of cinema already fully formed.

Beneath the surface banality of La Cienaga lies a resonant and troubling picture, the work of a filmmaker with a considered and singular artistic vision. Even if Martel's particular vision is likely to repel as many as it attracts, her film possesses a lingering, haunting power. Not especially enjoyable, but undeniably affecting.
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A thoroughly average film
osloj7 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Lucrecia Martel's "La Cienega" is an utterly boring look at a petit-bourgeois family that is so devoid of life, you wonder why they don't all just jump into a pool of quicksand and drown. There's no life in any of the scenes or characters, nothing but mundanity. The children have examples of sadism in them, when they shoot a cow stuck in mud; they are found roaming the forest doing nothing in particular.

The beginning of the film finds the matriarch boozing it up at the pool with a bunch of equally lethargic friends. She slips and cuts her chest, and that is the major plot point, that and sitting in bed, driving in old jalopy cars, or doing nothing at all. A lot of wine drinking completes the tediously long scenes.

The family lives on some estate somewhere in South America, where Indians are insulted. The Indians are not much better, going to parties to brawl or drink or play pool or hack up fish in the waters by a dam. You'll have a hard time getting to the end since it drags along.

The children are selfish, spoiled brats. There's no "brilliance" or luminosity in this film at all. The extras include a film by the director Lucrecia Martel, where she boasts about her film. Also some film by the pretentious windbags of the "New Argentine Cinema" is found. A small booklet by another pretentious intellectual, who raves about how great Lucrecia Martel's "La Cienega", is also stuck with the DVD.

This is a thoroughly average film despite what the reviews might claim about it.
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The charmless bourgeoisie
paul2001sw-128 November 2008
Maybe you have to be Argentinian to really appreciate this film. In the stultifying heat of a hot, humid summer, a rich (though decaying) family sit around drinking, playing with guns, exhibiting casual racism and watching television reports of the appearance of the Virgin Mary. No-one does anything useful and very little in the way of plot occurs; indeed, even when things do happen, the film refuses to treat them as plot (for example, a late scene, threatening tragedy, is never followed up). It's a pretty powerful metaphor for national decline, and if you strain, you can detect faint hints of black humour, but even so, 'La Cienaga' is pretty devoid of conventional entertainment. The acting convinces, so does the dialogue; but there's not that much to keep you watching.
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The Ice Storm at the edge of the jungle
jz-1031 August 2008
As you can tell from the reviews this is one of those films that people either love or hate. What will be your reaction? I propose a simple test. If you loved Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm," you'll probably love La Ciénaga as well. And if you found it unbearable (as I did), you'll probably find this unbearable as well.

I can't say it sucks; after all, the critics adore it. I can say that after the promising opening, the film seemed to me to be less a depiction of morass and more a morass itself, swallowing the viewer into an unmanageable plethora of characters ranging from the unlikeable to the despicable.

However, there is one character who does become fairly sympathetic. And when you identify that one, you can pretty much guess how the film ends. Stupid me, though. I subjected myself to these toxins to the end.
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A Film With Guts, Or Indiscreet Repulsion Of The Bourgeoisie
Galina_movie_fan17 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
For Christine

«Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness»… (Billy Joel)

A friend who recommended the film La Cienaga, (2001) aka The Swamp, described it as «a film with guts.» His description proved to be accurate and it most certainly took Lucrecia Martel, first time Argentinian director/writer, guts to make it. Based on memories of her family, and shot entirely in Martel's home town, Salta, in northern Argentina, The Swamp is a confident and skillful piece of filmmaking that draws quite a pessimistic picture of decline and degradation of Argentinian upper-middle class. The atmosphere of indifference and apathy oozes from every square inch of the screen, underlining all facets of the empty existence of the characters in the movie.

Intense and moody, The Swamp is not an easy film to watch, but like the eponymous swamp, it sucks you in and does not let you forget its anti- heroes-the bored, weak, dirty and detestable adults and their offspring of all ages, all of whom are spending their summer vacation in a crumbling country house which has seen better times.

This is not an action film, nor does it have much of a story; however, the Swamp delivers a visceral and direct assault to the senses that transforms the viewer from a distant observer into a reluctant participant in tropical hellish vacation where lives sink into meaningless apathetic drunk stupor to the sound of ice clinking in glasses with red wine and omnipresent image of the dirty and stagnant swimming pool in the background.

While undeniably original, as well as personal and intimate, the film brings to mind the themes and the subjects of famous works of art and literature from different cultures. References to A.P. Chekhov's dramas, The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters, whose main themes are decay of the privileged class and the effect social change has on people, are apparent.

Martel may have been also inspired by Macondo, a fictional town described in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. The similarities in the themes of rise, decline, and inevitable fall of once thriving and successful families are noticeable. But instead of mythical incessant downpour that destroyed the Buendia family home and brought the downfall and disappearance of Macondo from the face of the earth in the Marquez's powerful novel, it is smoldering heat that overpowers everything and everybody in The Swamp. It crawls under the skin, envelops the souls and the minds, and melts away thoughts, desires, and dreams, leaving only decay and hopelessness. The family estate, once a prosperous, imposing, grand building became a run- down house while the owners limply sprawled poolside on their deck chairs, too tired, bored, and inert to care.

You would expect the children and teenagers in the movie, with their natural curiosity, budding sexuality, and lust for life to bring a sense of hope and happiness, a breath of fresh air, but sadly, not in The Swamp. Left to their own devices, they wander aimlessly in the labyrinths of loneliness, as they face their own demons of growing up. It would seem that misery and failure, like contagious diseases, pass down from generation to generation and lurk on the surface of the estate's fetid, filthy, ominous swimming pool.
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talented director, miserable film
arnis1229 March 2002
On the plus side, the director of this film appears very talented and

is able to capture the perfect essence of heat and decay that

Marquez was always writing about,(oppressive heat, decaying

homes and objects) and this film features a powerful symbol of

modern day Argentine woe; a filthy, rotting swimming pool that no

person in his right mind would enter , and once was a symbol of

upper class status. The film is full of powerful images like these

and creating a mood of despair that most people in Argentine are

no doubt feeling at the moment. However, the film is only one of three films that I've seen that

actually made me nauseous. (The other two were Polyester and

Gummo) The director seems obsessed with decaying images

and wounds. The mother cuts her bosom early on and has

horrible scars, an older son gets his nose busted in a fight, most

of the kids look in need of a serious bath and are full of scabs and

scratches, father walks around drunk and looking like he's about

to barf, animals lie dying in a swamp, and then there's of course

the pool. The director almost seems to have a fetish for rotting

images and bodily scars and wounds. It makes for a most

uncomfortable viewing experience and the director made his point

yet kept piling on the imagery. In this case, I would have liked less

of the gruesome imagery and more humanity
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so, what is going on here?
hanselmerchor15 April 2005
La Cienaga is one of those movies that you watch and then you rub your eyes either to wake up or to come to your senses. The beginning was nice as it shows two families sunbathing by a nasty stagnant pool, then a drunken lady falls and cuts her chest, no one really cares and then her children help her, I thought this beginning was quite surreal so I proceeded to adjust myself in my leather seat, then it all went wrong, the movie gets flat, the plot goes nowhere, and the unhappy characters mainly fly aimlessly in their misery, there is the drunken mother, the useless husbands, the one eye kid, the other children who enjoy shooting animals and two brothers that have the hots for each other. Visually this movie succeeds and in a way I'd venture to say that maybe the so-called 'indians' of Argentina live like this among alcoholic drinks and trips to Bolivia to shop for school supplies, but at the end of the film I just thought, what do I care? I just wasted 100 minutes watching this.
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La Cienaga
Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel wrote and directed this impressively rich and atmospheric look at moral dissipation among Argentina's upper classes. Set in northwestern Argentina, on a dilapidated country estate, the movie chronicles the quotidian malaise of an Argentine family, their cousins, servants, and the nearby town.

Lushly and patiently filmed, the story follows the elder adults as they drink themselves into a stupor alongside their decrepit pool while their children cavort through the gloomy rooms of the country manor, killing off the idle hours of their summer holiday. Ignored by their parents, who are anxious to drown their own withered and broken relationships in alcohol, the children drive without licenses, race through the forest with shotguns, drink and dance at town parties.

Martel's effortless style captures the aimlessness of their lives and casts an especially harsh light on the conflicted relationship between a small moneyed population with European ancestry and the indigent servant class of indigenous locals. The movie's languorous pace beautifully matches the hot and muggy atmosphere that lays like a blanket over the estate and its bored inhabitants...
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what is so good about this movie?
Hunky Stud19 February 2009
I usually don't rate any movie below 5 as long as I can still watch them from the beginning to the end. however, this movie is really boring, since I don't know any of the actors, it feels as if I am watching a bad edited reality show.

Sure, there are those people who are talking, arguing, etc, but what is the purpose of this movie, I don't understand. It could be that because I have never been to that country, so I don't really know about their culture. Still, I have seen plenty of foreign movies, some are just so emotional. After watching this movie, I didn't feel a thing about this movie, there is nothing memorable about it at all.

And I am surprised about this high rating for this movie. Basic Instinct 2 is much better than this one for sure, but it only has about 4.
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If Martel's mission was to leave me stuck in the bog with the family's misery for an hour and a half she succeded.
rgsalinas23 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The pool doesn't work and it hasn't been working for a couple of years. This is a metaphor in the film, La Ciénaga, meaning "the bog" in English. As in a bog, everything gets stuck, which is also the case with the Argentine economy. It has been in a slump for some time now. The summer estate pool is filthy, the light bulbs are flickering and drunk grey-hairs are walking around. The parents are aging. The father is an adulterer. The mother is a pity party. The teenage girls are curious and the boys are always playing in the swamp. La Ciénaga is a one of a series of three for the director Martel. All three of the films are depictions or memories of Martel's childhood in the northwestern part of Argentina. La Ciénaga depicts a memory of her upper middle class family staying in their dilapidated summer home, La Mandrogora, during one of the many Argentine financial crises.

Stuck and miserable, Doña Marcel stutters around with her scarred bust, seemingly permanent sunglasses and vino cup topped with ice as the summer melts her away into another slippery alcoholic slope. She is empty. Her husband is an adulterer who just dyed his hair black for the Carnaval. Too bad he is too drunk himself to accomplish much. She, on the other hand, is melting away in unhappiness. Looking to the Indian servants for support only ends with accusations, racists remarks and an endless ringing telephone.

There are Catholic references throughout the story. These wrap together the end of the film, when Momi, Marcel's teenage daughter, loses all faith and hope. Her best friend, and also live-in Indian servant, Isabella, leaves the family and her job to live with Perro, her lover. Martel visually alludes to, but never reveals in dialog, that Isabella becomes pregnant, which is why she left with Perro. Momi is mortified. She goes into town to see the sighting of the Virgen del Carmen; a symbol of hope and faith to the Argentine Catholics.

The casting of the film is fair. In my opinion, it failed in doing its job and did not make it easy for me to believe that the Marcel's are a family. Perhaps the actors were selected for their abilities and not because the they could pass as a family. The production design and camera work was excellent. Martel did not fall short of making me feel as though I was in a sticky swamp. I definitely felt the sweat of the swamp, it was sucking me in little by little.

I did not particularly empathize with the characters. I did not experience a connection to any of them. The overtone of bigotry towards the Indians, overlaid with a story about a woman who is trying to get a grip on her life and her bourgeois tendencies, detached me from the family. I did not care about any of them. If Martel's mission was to leave me stuck in the bog with the family's misery for an hour and a half she succeeded.

Martel's most notable scene is when Doña Marcel trips on some towels and falls at the pool, resulting in open lacerations on her chest. As well as when the boys are hunting and they come across a cow that is stuck in the bog. The pacing of the film is executed very well during Doña Marcel accident. Although, I was not interested in the story of the film, I did feel many emotional beats. The film does not pay off for me in the end, though I could have missed the sighting of the Virgen.
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Stunning Argentinean filmatic debut or a self indulgent, meandering waste of energy?
t-dooley-69-38691618 January 2017
This is a film that has very much divided opinions. First it is about a couple of related families – one is better off than the other and spend the hot Latin summer at their country pile which is crumbling and decaying (read metaphor for Argentinean society). The other live in the semi slum where over crowding and urban want combine to provide a life full of white background noise and encourage an aimlessness which could again be another semi veiled metaphor.

The social bias and blatant racism of the haves with the have not 'Indians' is everywhere – the rampant alcoholism and wayward antics of all involved underline the dysfuntionality of a whole World where everyone seems to be too bored, tired or disinterested to even pretend to care any more. And what happens – lots of very little, with a dénouement I actually only saw coming moments before.

So is it a good film? Well yes it is as it sets out to use the families to reflect the general malaise that Argentina was going through at the turn of the 21st Century and it does so deftly and with a lot of hidden skill. The direction is excellent as the sheer amount of characters to have interacting would be bewildering for anyone. So as a piece of work it is a high achiever. However, it is also meandering in places, it seems to lack focus and goes off at random tangents and often the actual plot seems to have taken the day off – and that makes for a film that is a strain to keep your attention and interest.

I did watch all of it and appreciated it for the most part but I was left slightly dumbstruck at all the rave reviews – especially from critics. This could then be seen as an 'Emperors New Clothes' type thing as in once the band wagon got rolling they all piled on eager to out do each other with grovelling praise. But as I said it has many merits but just they fail to come together to make it a really great film.
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izmonk28 January 2008
this movie is not for morons. it's a bit, you know, slow. It's a bit, you know, weird. It might even make you have to think. The bottom line is, look at your list of favorite films and if, for the most part, they're completely predictable, formulaic and obvious, do not waste your time with La Cienaga. You're just gonna feel annoyed by it. I don't care if you think you're smart (in reference to someone's comment about "even people at Berkley walked out" -- berkley's got its fair share of stagnant dolts, trust me). Be honest with yourself; because this film is pretty merciless, and if you have any weaknesses in comprehension, empathy, openmindedness or imagination, you're gonna feel really bored/uncomfortable watching this. The only fault I have with this film is that it has no sense of humor. But for some reason I don't miss it here. It's a mood piece that doesn't try very hard to please.
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Best movie from New Argentine Cinema
Detrer8 May 2001
Lucrecia Martel gives us solid images and a very creative narrative in this story of two families living in Salta, north of Argentina. The film goes to little details from spiritual frustrations of adults, teenagers and children. Sexuality, love, cruelty, incest, racism are the issues in this realist and poetic view of the life of every day people. The narrative is a fragmented story of different characters that confronts your almost tragic way of surviving. Very strong performances and the sound is a very creative work (of art). Best movie from "New Argentine Cinema". Won Alfred Bauer Award in the Berlin Film Fest.
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In your face filmmaking
Camoo28 January 2015
Martel was a director previously unknown to me, and finding this film is one of life's wonderful little discoveries.

Cienaga "The Swamp" buzzes with life and a kind of vibrancy that we don't get to see very often, especially not from Hollywood films which almost pride themselves in their sterility. Dirt, grime, sweat, rain, blood and tears cake every scene, and characters float in and out of the foggy Argentinian landscapes like lost animals. It recalls Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where the characters are sometimes found walking the nameless road to nowhere - with a feeling that in this strange zone of unhappiness they are all trapped and unable to leave its perimeters.

Terrific on every level.
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Read a lot about it before you decide to see it
falconv220 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I didn't know anything about the film before seeing it. Not sure if I would have watched it, knowing what I know now.

The opening scene really grabbed me. The lack of family members' interest, even reacting to one of their own falling and becoming seriously injured. Some right there don't even seem to know anything has happened.

After that incident however, I get lost. The host of characters, the intermingling of seemingly unconnected story lines and the sheer number of players confused me to no end. A family tree or some kind of chart depicting relationships would have been helpful.

Aboout 40 minutes into the film some understanding developed, so what! I became bored.

After reading other user comments it seems this film can only be appreciated by those having a deep understanding of the culture and economics of the Argentine sub-culture it reflects. So now I can better understand but still feel my time viewing it was wasted.
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